Rotary Action logo by Mike Pepper military helicopter A GUIDE TO HELICOPTERS  
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Welcome to this fan-site devoted to airborne action. I have always thought these flying machines are amazing, and this has led to a lifelong fascination with helicopters in movies and TV. Apart from such practical operations like air/sea search and rescue (SAR) missions, modern cinema makes the most spectacular (if not always the best) use of a chopper's unique abilities. Not just as a platform for aerial cinematography - but on the screen too, where a wide variety of rotorcraft (from sky-cranes to autogyros) are used to create the kind of exciting stunts I call rotary action.

Helicopters add 'production value' to all kinds of films and shows, so if a movie includes an aerial sequence it's very likely a clip of airborne footage will appear in the trailer. By far the most popular helicopter to be seen on big or small screens is the Bell 206 JetRanger. And yet the most frequently used helicopter - in proper 'rotary action' pictures - is undoubtedly the Bell UH-1 Iroquois, better known as the 'Huey'.

ROTARY ACTION exists as a useful reference for anyone interested in the various links between cinema and aircraft. See our Flight Logs A-Z using the navigation bar above... but beware: this site includes plot spoilers! If you would like to help compile new entries for these pages, and/or can supply additional pictures, please let me know. - TONY LEE
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Blue Thunder - the best helicopter movie ever!
"The helicopter... had become a very standard tool in the film business. But, oh, did it open up all kinds of vistas, all kinds of production values, all kinds of expanded horizons."


By something like popular demand, here's my pick of the very best rotary action films and TV shows. As a keen fan of science fiction, this listing is clearly biased in favour of genre works...

Blue Thunder
Look no further... with its machine-as-protagonist storyline, this is simply the greatest helicopter action movie ever made!
special helicopter in Blue Thunder

Surprisingly entertaining rotary action, even today, this mid-1980s' series was far superior to Blue Thunder's own TV spinoff.
Bell 222 in Airwolf

Apocalypse Now
The greatest war movie ever made features epic cinema's finest rotary action sequence of air supremacy.
Hueys in Apocalypse Now

Wings Of The Apache  (aka: Fire Birds)
The most under-rated helicopters movie, this has many impressive rotary action sequences with lots of American gunships.
gunships in Wings Of The Apache

Black Hawk Down
Great acting and superb drama in Ridley Scott's movie enhances the impact of its various helicopters in combat sequences.
Black Hawk Down helicopter

Birds Of Prey
An aerial chase thriller from the 1970s, this highly original and radical TV movie remains influential even today.
Hughes 500 in Birds of Prey

Deadly Encounter
Quite unforgettable (and the subject of many questions emailed to Rotary Action), this re-defined helicopter thrillers for the 1980s.
JetRanger in Deadly Encounter

Sci-fi action with a monster as the hero, this instant classic is a showcase for Comanche stealth rotorcraft... even if they do get smashed!
Comanche in Hulk

Rambo III
Whatever its technical faults (mainly those fake Hind gunships), this remains a very good movie for displays of rotary action.
Rambo 3

The show that started it all... this got me interested in helicopters when I first saw it on TV, almost a lifetime ago.
Bell 47 in Whirlybirds

Of course, the big problem with helicopter scenes in blockbuster movies, nowadays, is that so many aerial stunts are faked with CGI. And that's one reason why I have been watching more documentary films and programmes, lately... to get a proper heli-fix of genuine rotary action!
- Tony Lee

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"We did all kinds of things in trailers to help sell films. We had a famous exploding helicopter shot from one of those Filipino productions that we'd cut in every time a trailer was too dull - because that was always exciting." - JOE DANTE


cliche Apparently out of control or damaged, a helicopter flies over a hill, or behind a landmark. Once it's out of view, there's a huge explosion to suggest the aircraft has crashed. Few movies have the budget to afford model effects, or write-off even a mock-up helicopter.

cliche The escaping hero and sidekick or partner climb aboard an unattended helicopter. One asks the other "Can you fly this thing?"
"No... but hang on!" comes the reply, and then the machine performs a decidedly wobbly takeoff.

cliche In pursuit of a road vehicle, the hero - or his stuntman, at least - jumps down from a low-flying helicopter onto or into the wildly swerving vehicle as it races along a conveniently deserted highway.

cliche A helicopter is forced to make an emergency landing on the roof of a building and it promptly crashes through the ceiling into a crowded room.

cliche At night time, helicopters flying in the distance (especially military machines) are often mistaken for UFOs.

cliche In the movies, a stolen helicopter only ever carries two minutes of aviation fuel. In such incidents, the hero has to perform a dangerous emergency landing - a survivable technique called autorotation - while any machine piloted by a villain invariably blows up (see item number one)... The moral of this is, of course - never get into a helicopter with an action movie bad guy!

cliche By far the most used and/ or abused rotorcraft cliché in movies and TV is the sound effect of a helicopter passing 'overhead', without a chopper ever being visible on-screen. In stereo, it 'travels' from one side/ speaker(s) to the other, accentuating the Doppler effect - a particular audio trick notable in those Dolby adverts featuring a computer-animated helicopter.
- Tony Lee
A shorter version 1st published in fanzine ALTERNATIES #20, 1994
If you see any helicopter action not already listed on this site, send details to Rotary Action.
More pictures of helicopters from movies and TV shows are also of interest for use on this site.

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- JOHN MOORE (director, Behind Enemy Lines)

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- ELAN HEAD (editor-in-chief, Vertical magazine)

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Thanks to ROTARY ACTION contributors - Jenni Allen (Flying Pictures), Bernd Biege, Captain Jean Bizot, Derek Blake, Estela Boiso, Richard Bowden, Jeremy Braben, Jim Burlingame, Wes Carr, Mark Caswell, Jamie Chalkley (Eastern Atlantic Helicopters), Patrick Christine, Brian Cooper, Gary Couzens, Steve Covington, Joao Paulo Cursino, James D'Angina, Nathan Decker, Dan Demeter, Craig Dyer (Blackstar Helicopters), Andreas Eberhardt, Cormac Estridge, Brad Faul, Ruth Ferguson, Jason Firestorm, Frame Bruce Fletcher, Jim Fowler, Ian Vincent Frain - BSc AMRAeS, Javier 'Topper' Franco, John C. Goble, Todd Goetz, Louis Gonzalez, Shaun J. Greaney, Martin Gula, Carsten Hagen, Jesse Hamm, Steven Hampton, Amy Harlib, Greg Harrison, J.C. Hartley, Wesley Haworth, Bill Hiers, Paul Higson, Joe Hinson, Jonathan Horswell, Andrew Hughes, Hegyi Istvan, Paul Jackson (Sikorsky), JLH, Chris Johnston, Johannes Karl, A.J. King, Jonathon Lance, Steve LaValley, Stephen Lee, Marcos Leguizamon, Winnie Leung, Tony Lowry (Biggin Hill), Kevin Lyons, Roger Matthysen, Jonathan McCalmont, Brian McIntyre, Mario Mifsud, Geoffrey Montgomery, John Moore, Donald Morefield, James Moors, Corey Mugaas, Joel Nelsen (CPL Rotorcraft), René Nouta, Mike Pepper (Enigma), Robin Petgrave (Celebrity Helicopters), Daryl Privette, John Reynolds, Sergeant Ruben 'Radar' Rodriguez (Nueces County Sheriff's Dept), Augusto Rolim, Jon Roper, Trevor Rose, José M. Rubio (Eurocopter España), Joe Russell, Andy and Arlene Sidaris (Malibu Bay Films), Matthew Simmons, Bob Smith, Jim Snyder, Steve Stafford (Studio Wings), Lance Strumpf, Dan Sweet (Columbia Helicopters), E.B. Travis, Justin Travis, Costas Tsaganas, Samuel Weeks, Jared Whittenberg, David Williams, Jeroen de Wit, Dara Yazdani, Alex Youngs (American Eurocopter), Alec Zubenko.

This is a non-profit fan site, featuring publicity photos and images from various movies - but no copyright infringement is intended.

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